Corporate PACs Plot Counterstrategy to Thwart Campaign Finance Reform

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

A couple of days after the midterms, Politico reported:

“I’m going to say something controversial: We believe there isn’t enough money in politics,” said Geoff Ziebart, executive director of the [National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC), which lobbies on behalf of PACs.] “There’s so much money outside the control of candidates and parties, and Congress has been unwilling to address that.”

Well, I guess that’s one way of defining the American money and politics problem.

It’s certainly not how I would frame the issue — nor I suspect would most readers of Naked Capitalism.

But it’s a framing that accords with the mission of NABPAC, an organisation that describes itself as follows (from the About section of the NABPAC website):

The National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC), a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association, was founded in 1977 and is the sole national organization dedicated to promoting, defending and professionalizing PACs and political action professionals.

NABPAC is not a PAC, and does not contribute to candidates – it is a trade association for corporations and business associations. Our goal is to advance the interests of our membership and protect the rights of millions of Americans who participate in democracy though voluntary contributions to a PAC.

NABPAC also provides comprehensive membership services to PAC and grassroots professionals through continuing educational workshops, annual conferences, informative publications and peer-to-peer advising. Membership consists of over 700 PAC and government affairs professionals from more than 215 corporations, associations and vendors throughout the country who represent some of the smallest and largest PACs. NABPAC members collectively accounted for PAC receipts in excess of $195 million during the 2016 election cycle. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

I don’t think I’m especially naive, but I was a bit surprised to discover an association dedicated to advancing the agenda of “PAC and government affairs professionals.” And I suspect I’m not alone: I’d bet good money that    even Richard Scarry was unaware of this “profession” when he wrote his children’s classic, What Do People Do all Day? But I digress.

To summarize NABPAC in a nutshell  (from the History section of the NABPAC website):

From its founding, NABPAC has been dedicated to the premise that voluntary contributions to candidates, Parties and other political entities provide the critical resources necessary for pro-business candidates to carry their messages to voters.

What Is to Be DONE; The NABPAC Agenda

NABPAC convened a conference earlier in November in Palm Beach, on the subject of Challenging the Narrative and Opening Minds: PACs and the 116th Congress. I’ve included a link to NABPAC’s Power Point presentation, and I encourage interested readers to look at that more carefully.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

So, to spare myself that choice, let’s look more closely at that presentation. Page 23 summarizes the problem NABPAC faces: a political environment in which politicians have pledged not to take PAC money; in which corporate PACs are perceived as providing “dark money”; and where anti-PAC rhetoric is ubiquitous.

Jerri-Lynn here. At least NABPAC acknowledges the obvious. Or,to put it another way, describes the campaign finance universe in much the same way that I – and I imagine many readers – do. Where we would certainly disagree is on the role that corporate money should play in financing elections – and I’m sure, on many other issues as well.

Let’s now move to I page 25 of the Power Point, which sets out the NABPAC plan:

1) Shift the public narrative that corporate PACs are bad/neutralize;

2) Educate Congress on the need to “modernize” campaign law…aka reform

Goal: Create an 18th month strategic plan for NABPAC to implement.

How are they going to do this? Via excellent [campaign finance reform] knowledge and history; relationships with key reporters and influencers; social media advocacy; and building a bi-partisan team (p. 24).

Key reporters include (p. 43):

    • Kate Ackley and Cat Camilia | Roll Call
    • Michelle Lee and Paul Kane | Washington Post
    • Alex Burns and Carl Hulse | New York Times
    • Brody Mullins and Rebeccas Ballhaus | WSJ

And NABPAC’s objectives? (from p. 26):

  • Develop focused, modern initiative to change dialogue;
  • Reintroduce traditional PACs to lawmakers; Hill staff; and media (while differentiating from Super PACs)
  • Explain the need for wide-ranging reform on an antiquated but transparent hard-money system
  • Provide membership with facts, talking points to defend
  • Protect and promote their PACs internally
  • Energize a bipartisan group of  Hill champions to preserve
  • Promote and preserve the roles of PACs in the [campaign finance] system through specific legislative initiatives.

I thought readers might also be interested in the conduits through which NABPAC expects their views might become policy. On the Republican side, these include Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy – no surprises there – and on the Democratic side, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Steny Hoyer (p. 39).

I should highlight two talking points under the heading “Rebut the Attacks” (p. 35):

  • PAC contributions are the cleanest in politics
  • PAC contributions are the most bipartisan in in politics

And that, I suggest, is the problem in a nutshell.The third point under the same heading, offers some basis for optimism – but not in the sense that NABPAC intended, and only if movements to dredge the campaign finance swamp, and move either to a system that collects small contributions from ordinary voters- along the lines of the Bernie Sanders model – or some system of public financing of elections.

    • PAC contributions inspire political involvement.

The Times They Are A-Changin?

Now, as Common Dreams reports:

In its presentation, NABPAC sought to pit political action committees against unregulated Super PACS, which can accept unlimited donations—arguing that PAC money is “the cleanest money in politics.

“The statement blatantly ignored the recent success of progressive candidates who have pledged to take no corporate PAC money for their campaigns—including Reps.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Thirty-five new members of the House won their elections after refusing such donations, as well as 12 incumbent lawmakers.In the face of these pledges, what is the NABPAC response.

Again, according to Politico:

The National Association of Business PACs – which lobbies for PACs – is finalizing a plan to convince lawmakers, candidates and the press that the real villain in politics is unchecked spending by super PACs and mystery donors, not the more-regulated fundraising committees attached to businesses and trade groups.The group also will push lawmakers to raise the limits on how much corporate PACs can give to individual candidates from $5,000 to $10,000, caps that haven’t changed since 1974.

Can you believe this? I cannot. So, I cede the floor, and turn it over to readers to discuss the subject  further.

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14 comments

  1. joey

    As a physician, I’m saddened by the AMA being such a landmark on the slide deck. Of course, I’m not a member of any of the available professional societies in large part due to the political utilization of the dues. Yet the AMA and the American Psychiatric Association are trailblazers in another odious regards, with each making profits from intellectual property. The university for which I work couldn’t afford a copy of DSM 5 for over a year after its publication. I wish I could boycott the CPT codes that the AMA charges for use, but that nagging third party insurance is the one who pays and ‘discounts’ my billings accordingly. Unless I go completely fee-for-service, the beast gets fed.

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      I once heard Andrew Weil describe the AMA as “a very ineffective organization. Whatever it opposes comes to pass.”

      Reply
  2. Chauncey Gardiner

    Unsurprising…

    “Our goal is to advance the interests of our membership and protect the rights of millions of Americans who participate in democracy though voluntary contributions to a PAC.” … “From its founding, NABPAC has been dedicated to the premise that voluntary contributions to candidates, Parties and other political entities provide the critical resources necessary for pro-business candidates to carry their messages to voters.”

    One Big Thing (among many):

    Intimidate employees into “voluntarily” giving to their corporate employers’ PACs, or else be subject to an implicit policy that reduces or preempts promotions, wage increases, and increases the probability that an employee will be subjected to layoff.

    I can say based on personal experience that it’s effective. Corporate PACs should be banned for a variety of reasons, this being one.

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Our CEO notified officers that their expected PAC contribution was a percentage of their pay, rising with rank. He wrapped up the message by telling anyone with any questions about that to come see him.

      Our CFO applied a similar, less expensive, approach when he was on the board of a local charity, but at least we got some appetizers at his events. /s

      Was that Danegeld or Dunegeld?

      Reply
      1. Darius

        I see no reason why this practice shouldn’t be banned. In fact, employees should be barred from contributing to the corporate PAC. It’s inherently coercive. Let them make individual contributions.

        Reply
  3. shinola

    J-LS:
    “I don’t think I’m especially naive, but I was a bit surprised to discover an association dedicated to advancing the agenda of “PAC and government affairs professionals.” And I suspect I’m not alone”

    No, you’re not. I had no idea this existed. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    As an aside, I’ve occasionally engaged in conversations with friends/family about the fantasy of “What would you do if you won that big lottery?”
    I always say one of the 1st things I’d do is buy myself some representation in government.
    They thought I was joking…

    Reply
  4. cgregory

    With a vendor-based form of campaign finance regulation, the corporations could give all the money they wanted to, and it wouldn’t affect the outcome of the campaign.

    Reply
  5. readerOfTeaLeaves

    It looks like yet another group that is bound and determined to cling to outdated ideas about economic activity, pass off rent-seeking as ‘investment’, and are blinded by the belief that taxes ‘take away’ from the ‘larger economy’. Because, you know, money to build roads, bridges, functioning schools, public safety, hospitals, libraries, ports, courts — money referred to as ‘taxes’ — are always and everywhere a ‘drag’ on economic growth.

    Currently, we have princelings in their 70s and 80s serving on Senate committees where they have pontificated for decades (see also: Kavenaugh hearings). If this group is handing out money to support dotards and their younger ilk, it looks to me as if they are socially inept, albeit politically expedient, investors. Over time, expedience becomes a drag on larger systems. As a business proposition, it is toxic.

    Reply
  6. John

    “From its founding, NABPAC has been dedicated to the premise that voluntary contributions to candidates, Parties and other political entities provide the critical resources necessary for pro-business candidates to carry their messages to voters.”

    At least they’re honest about it.

    And PACs are definitely better than Super-PACs, I’ll give them that.

    Reply

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